Automotive systems and components manufacturer Sona Comstar marked its presence at the Auto Expo 2020 Components Show this year with the theme ‘Electrifying tomorrow’s Drivertrain.’ A manufacturer that has been supplying starter motors to the Ford Motor Company and several others for years now had electrification as its theme. This definitely points to a major shift in the industry which has already begun. We got in a conversation with Vivek Vikram Singh, Sona Comstar MD and Group CEO, to learn more about the manufacturer’s preparedness for the onset of electric mobility.
Sona Comstar in India and internationally
With a revenue of $ 210 million, the Indian origin automotive systems & components manufacturer Sona Comstar has 10 plants spread across India, China, Mexico, and the USA. While 70 percent of the sales come from Ford Motor Company, Sona Comstar also supplies starter motors to Renault, Jaguar Land Rover, and Aston Martin. In India, the manufacturer’s customer base includes Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland for starter motors, and Maruti Suzuki for other components.
Sona Comstar also has BLDC motors, differential assemblies, and among several other automotive components, the product lineup now also includes a 3-in-1 e-axle [liquid-cooled. 360V 27-40 kW, 250V“450 60-25 kW].
Vivek Vikram Singh tells us that 75% of Sona Comstar business comes from exports and 25% from the home country. It has a near-monopoly in gears for commercial vehicles, including tractors.
Sona Comstar views the EV emergence as an opportunity for which it has modified its strategies as the new paradigm of Autonomous, Connected, Electrified, and Shared mobility grows more and more relevant in the industry. The manufacturer is focussing on its R&D resources to develop new products like the e-Axle and the 48V BSG which were showcased at the 2020 Auto Expo Components Show.
Electric mobility in India
We asked Mr Singh what he thought of the recent proposal in the 2020 Budget under which EV imports would become more expensive due to a rise in import duty. To which he says that it would be a welcome move since if importing would be more expensive, manufacturers would have to make in India – thus promoting more affordable price tags on EVs.
He continues to opine that to make EVs more adaptable in India, three aspects have to be addressed – customers have to want it, the government has to make it happen and the manufacturers have to make it affordable.
While Mahindra had the Reva electric car in India way before the government started pushing electric mobility in the country and it was an affordable proposition as well, the idea never sold well with the customers. Electrification of the vehicles is inevitable, however, cars would most likely be the last to be fully electrified in India.
A more plausible approach, he says, would be to begin with making two-wheelers and city buses go electric. He admits that the government understands this and hence EV subsidies on two-wheelers and buses are the maximum. Electric cars currently carry big price tags, installation of charging infrastructure for each home with an EV is a tall order, and there is also a lack of public chargers.
Sona Comstar’s vision on e-mobility
Vivek Vikram Singh happens to have simple explanations and examples, one of which he cited was that of Nokia launching its first phone 3310 back in 2000. Even until 2006-2007, not many people owned a cell phone and but then there was a boom in the market and now a mobile phone is pretty much a mandatory extension to one and all.
EVs will see a similar growth pattern. While they’ve been around and will be around with not much popularity, but as prices would come under control as government policies would fall in the right place and infrastructure would be improved – we will soon enter an era where younger generations would be less familiar with a fuel filling station.
The day, he adds, the likes of Ather are able to bring their prices down to Rs 60,000-70,000, there will be an instant shift to electric two-wheelers that customers would then not want to move back from.
Today, there are several EV startups in India as there is a certain boom expected in the sector. And the fact that building an EV is comparatively simpler than building an ICE (internal combustion engine) helps with ease of setting up shop. However, in terms of larger vehicles – it will not be as simple as bolting an electric motor to two-wheels.
Mr Singh revealed to us that Sona Comstar built a prototype all-electric truck based on a Tata 407. However, he continues, building a working prototype and mass production of these vehicles are two entirely different stories. Currently, the electrification of long-haul vehicles is posed with hurdles like missing charging infrastructure along highways and the fact that heavy-duty vehicles would require large battery packs which would add a lot of weight. Hence, it must be a step-by-step approach starting with smaller vehicles like two-wheelers and those that need run only within a city like public transport buses and small goods carrier three-wheelers.
Before I end this piece, I must quote Vivek Vikram Singh on one thing though: “Business does not have to be complicated”. If your products are affordable and you know you are better and more convenient (as a supplier, you’re less likely to run into issues like lack of business), he added.
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